Bringing conferences to students

One of the ways in which the Kravis Leadership Institute (KLI) contributes to the life of Claremont McKenna College students is by introducing them to academic conferences, whether it is by bringing conferences to campus, or by taking students away to them. Over the past semester, the KLI hosted the 23rd Kravis-de Roulet Leadership Conference; students also had the opportunity to attend the International Leadership Association and Net Impact conferences.

Change and progress were the order of the day at the Kravis-de Roulet Leadership Conference; Ron Riggio would have me know. The Kravis-de Roulet conference is now 23 years in the running, and last October’s 23rd run was significant because it came on the eve of KLI’s 20th anniversary. Riggio, Associate Dean of the Faculty and Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), had planned for a different sort of conference, one that was manifestly about “looking forward.”

“Leadership always looks at the past. For the 20th anniversary of the KLI we wanted to do something different, and part of the idea is ‘looking forward.’ That’s how we came to the theme of ‘The Future of Leadership,” Riggio said. Looking forward comprised more than a theme; it also meant rejigging the Kravis-de Roulet format so that it came fresher. The keynote speech stayed, but along with it came two leadership panels and a series of TEDx-styled talks. The 23rd Kravis-de Roulet might have been the second in a calendar year, but it stayed fresh this way.

It certainly felt like it went well, Riggio said. The conference was well-attended by students — over 150 registered — and it was well-liked by the speakers. “The speakers had a good time, which I think is really important,” Riggio said. All five of the speakers at this Kravis-de Roulet had had previous at the conference and indicated interest in returning for future editions.

Anne Shen Smith, chairman and CEO (retired) of the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), was the keynote speaker this conference. SoCalGas is the nation’s largest natural gas distribution utility and counts more than 7,500 among its employees. Addressing the conference from the CMC Miriam Miner Cook Athenaeum, Smith spoke about the emptiness of putative leadership. Titles are hollow, she said, and do not empower leadership; rather, leadership comes from personal character.

Either side of Smith’s address during lunch were a set of panel discussion and TEDx-styled talks. The first half of the day featured talks from Barbara Kellerman and Richard Leblanc. Kellerman is the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in leadership at the Kennedy School, Harvard University. She discussed her recently published book, Hard Times, which investigates how the context of contemporary America affects leadership and followership theory. Richard Leblanc, Professor of Law at York University gave a talk titled “The Future of Boardroom Governance” that was largely about key trends in board governance such as increasing activist attention. They were followed by a panel discussion on social entrepreneurship. The panel, titled “Leading Social Change,” was led by Sarah Smith Orr, executive director of the KLI, and featured Ryszard Praszkier, Ken Saxon, and Carla Javist.

The afternoon half featured talks from Bruce Avolio, Richard Boyatzis, and Mary Uhl-Bien. Avolio is the chair in Business Strategic Leadership at the Foster School of Business, University of Washington, and his talk revolved around leadership as a form of universal narrative. Richard Boyatzis is the chair of family business at Case Western Reserve, and he spoke about the elusive quality of resonance, and the kind of emotional intelligence a leader must possess to be able to elicit it from his followers. They were followed by the final panel discussion of the day, titled “Leading in Government,” that was led by three professors in government at Claremont McKenna College, Mark Blitz, Andrew Busch, and Jack Pitney. Mary Uhl-Bien, professor of leadership at the Neely School of Business, gave the last talk of the day, speaking about the need of adaptive approaches to the new leadership problems of the current age.

The next Kravis-de Roulet conference will most likely take place in 2016. Its theme is expected to be “Women and Leadership.”

CMC students participated once again in the International Leadership Association’s (ILA) annual student case competition. The ILA is the global network for all those who practice, study, and teach leadership, and as part of its annual conferences hosts a case competition where students use leadership theories to explain and improve upon extant examples of good leadership.

This year’s participants enjoyed their times greatly. Marissa Mirbach ‘16 described the ILA conference as  “a really cool experience” where she got to see for herself the breadth of research in leadership studies. She found the case competition especially rewarding. “I also learned a lot from participating in the Case Competition. The research beforehand gave me a new insight into real-life problem solving using Leadership Theories. And discussing our group’s strategies with the judges and other conference attendees was really good practice for the future,” Mirbach said.

Alex Chang ‘15, another member of the team, concurred. “I’d say that I enjoyed the competitive atmosphere, as it was my first time participating in any sort of case analysis. I also found each of the concurrent sessions I attending interesting and insightful into the future study of the field.”

You can read more about the ILA conference and the workings of the case competition from a past article, here.

The Net Impact Conference was another conference that CMC students attended last semester. It describes itself as “the leading forum for students and professionals who want to tackle the world’s toughest social and environmental problems.”

Jessie Capper ’17, one of the attendees, said that the place was “packed with social entrepreneurs, graduate students, undergraduates, for-profit and non-profit representatives, and a few individuals who seem to do it all.” Maggie Miller ’16, another attendee, agreed. She found that conference attendees ran the gamut. “I met undergrads, MBA students, angel investors, small business owners, and major corporate executives. We spend a ton of time talking about good ideation strategies and business practices; it was so interesting and amazing to see these principles implemented in so many innovative ways.”

Capper found the aspirational tone of the conference very inspiring. The multivalence of methods and passions astounded her.

“I attended a majority of breakout sessions on environmental initiatives due to my passion for environmental sustainability. [The conference] demonstrated that social entrepreneurship and innovation can be exemplified in a range of ways. It was clear from many of the social entrepreneurs, innovators, and social leaders in the panels, keynotes, and workshops that an initial spark, mission, and commitment to beneficial environmental efforts were critical components to achieving the smallest and biggest of goals,” Capper said.

Amy Wu ’18, a freshman at CMC, found her experience especially instructive, albeit occasionally intimidating. She said she ultimately took a lot away from the experience in spite of her initial fish-out-of-water experience. “I honestly felt pretty intimidated as an undergraduate freshman amongst MBAs armed with flashy business cards and elevator pitches, but that’s also what made it an incredibly emboldening experience – to dive into something completely out of my league, to just experience and absorb what I felt totally unprepared for. I learned about a whole host of opportunities in the social impact sector – from pay-for-success bonds in the finance field to CSR at large corporations, helping me reaffirm my passion for and commitment to social change.”